There is no worse tragedy than one transformed into profanity. The profanity is compounded when it is not recognized as such by the mass of people.

This is precisely what has happened to the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001 at the hands (clasped tightly in prayer) of U.S. President George W. Bush: He has taken an act of horrific violence and profaned it for temporary political advantage.

The sixth anniversary of the attacks on American soil by 19 fanatic extremists in four hijacked planes comes in two days’ time. Although the headline of “3,000 Americans dead” still screams from the U.S. media, hundreds of those victims were not Americans. Does claiming those noncitizens as your own augment the nation’s injury?

An event cannot be studied or understood outside the context of its aftermath. In the case of the event since known by the iconic numerals “9/11,” the aftermath, still very much ongoing, has been fashioned and manipulated to such an extent that its true nature is not easy to discern.

I have just finished reading “The Greatest Story Ever Sold” (Penguin, 2006) by New York Times op-ed writer Frank Rich. This is a brilliant and meticulous dissection of the Bush administration’s exploitation of 9/11 to further its aggressive agenda in the United States and elsewhere.

Americans, according to Rich, were not only shocked that day, but also nonplussed. “Few Americans had a clue,” he writes, “about who ‘they’ (the perpetrators) were, let alone why they hated us. Radical Islam was as mysterious to most as quantum physics.”

The gut reaction to the attacks was, in some cases, mind-boggling. Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell, appearing on fellow fundamentalist Pat Robertson’s television show, said, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians . . . and the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] . . . I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’ “

Bush was to distance himself from this comment and, in fact, Falwell himself retreated from it, claiming it was taken “out of context.”

The ballyhoo of patriotism

But gut reactions are telling, especially in a country where the president’s vessel of reason is located in the vicinity of the gut.

As Rich clearly points out, Bush took 9/11 as a mandate to intimidate the media and crush resistance to his ambitious plans. All that was left to do (after Bush’s victory in the midterm elections of 2002), he writes, “was a completion of the niceties needed to pave the way to America’s inevitable new war.”

But was the 2003 invasion of Iraq “inevitable”? Why didn’t Americans protest and resist?

In fact, they did. However, they were silenced and their anger neutered by that most effective of weapons of political oppression anywhere in the world: the fear of being publicly branded as unfaithful to the ballyhoo of patriotism.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, the ruling troika in Washington, did not need to cajole and coerce the populace, though they proved themselves astute at doing just that. The majority of Americans went along because 9/11 instilled a fear in them — a fear fanned by that troika and their cohorts, that this was only the beginning of a prolonged attack on “the Land of the Free” by foreign extremists and domestic “radicals.”

Actually, 9/11 was nothing of the sort. It occurred in the United States, but it just as well could have happened in London, Madrid or virtually any other Western capital. By turning it into a portent of things to come in America, Bush was able to gain a free hand over a now-malleable populace.

I have spent decades studying Soviet and Russian politics, and the inner workings of the Bush administration resemble those machinations more than I have ever seen in another country. Bush, in effect, formed a Politburo in Washington, creating new powers for himself and maintaining them by discrediting rivals and ruining the careers of potential opponents. The media is seen by Bush, as it was by Soviet leaders — and today, indeed, by Vladimir Putin — as a vehicle to ride roughshod over resistance and capture the “truth” as a monopoly for oneself and one’s clique.

No one spouted words such as “international friendship and peace” more than Soviet leaders. After all, the USSR’s abiding slogan was “Miru mir,” or “Peace to the world” — an appropriately empty and hypocritical motto for the Politburo on the Potomac as well.

At the heart of America’s problem

Most Americans in 2007 still tend to view the destruction of 9/11 entirely from their own standpoint as victims. They do not consider that their past actions had anything to do with 9/11. As Bush continually tells the world, the attackers did it because “they hate our freedoms.”

The inability or refusal to delve into the causes of those attacks, and address them in such a way that similar perpetrators would be dissuaded from striking again, is at the heart of America’s problem.

Why should radical Islam be a mystery to Americans, as Rich claims in his book? It is, in essence, no different from the variety of Christianity that Bush and his fundamentalist ilk espouse. The means used by the two bands of extremists are virtually identical. What was 9/11 if not “shock and awe”? Collateral damage? Sure; lots of it.

The United States under Bill Clinton was, in one primary sense, adrift. That country, and the military-industrial complex which is its economic engine, is forever in need of a devil. Communism was the bogeyman of the 20th century. When that dark presence vanished, another exploitable one had to be found.

The perpetrators of 9/11 were true and vicious enemies. But it was not enough for Bush to have them dead. He needed to “invent the devil,” and portray him very much alive, numerous and strong. Bush’s war in Iraq may not have been inevitable, but it was necessary to create that numerous and strong enemy. Thus was born the self-fulfilling prophecy and the crusade to augment America’s power around the world.

Are Bush and his Potomac Politburo to blame for the aftermath of 9/11 that has in part destroyed American liberties at home and the chances for peace in the Middle East? Or is it the American people who are to blame — those who refuse to consider that they may have had a hand in their own destruction and the creation of the devil that now lives within them?

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